By Mars Mosqueda and Francis Wakefield
A strong earthquake struck Leyte Thursday afternoon, and there were initial reports of collapsed infrastructure, cracked roads, and landslides that resulted in the death of at least two people – one in Ormoc City and another in Kananga town – and the injury of scores of others throughout the province.
Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Deputy Director Bartolome Bautista said the quake hit at 4:03 p.m. and registered at magnitude 6.5 with its epicenter located eight kilometers southwest of Jaro, Leyte, and had a depth of two kilometers.
The tremor was felt at Intensity 5 in Tacloban City, Palo, Leyte, and Cebu City, Intensity 4 in Tolosa, Leyte, Sagay City, Negros Occidental, Burgos, Surigao del Norte, Intensity 3 in Bogo City, Cebu, Calatrava, Negros Occidental, Intensity 2 in Libjo, San Jose, Cagdianao, Dinagat Islands, and Intensity 1 in Roxas City, La Carlota City; Negros Occidental.
The quake cut power in the whole of Leyte and parts of Cebu and Bohol, and employees at the Iloilo City Hall were evacuated.
Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez confirmed one death – 18-year-old Rizza Rosales – in the mountain village of Cabaon-an in his city which was hit by a landslide during the tremor. Her five-month-old child was rescued.
Gomez also said there 40 casualties as a result of the earthquake in Ormoc, but most were trauma victims.
Gomez said cracks were seen in three major highways, but all roads in and out of the city were passable.
He added that Ormoc airport was damaged, resulting in the cancellation of all flights.
Asked how strong the quake was felt in Ormoc, Gomez said: “Naisip ko, baka katapusan ko na. Malakas talaga; siguro tumagal din ng mga 15 seconds (I thought to myself, this might be my end. It was really strong; perhaps it lasted 15 seconds).”
He ordered the suspension of classes and work and convened his disaster response and management council even as the city was hit by an outage.
Rescuers were rushing to the town of Kananga where a three-story commercial building collapsed as the tremor struck Leyte, town mayor Rowena Codilla told DZBB radio.
“We were able to retrieve one dead and one injured,” Mayor Codilla said.
The rescue is hampered by aftershocks that continued to rock the area and lack of proper equipment, she said.
Kananga Vice Mayor Elmer Codilla said rescuers pulled out six people from the collapsed building.
“There are still more people inside, maybe more than five. The rescue operation is ongoing,” he added.
Two of those trapped managed to send text messages seeking help, the vice mayor said.
Officials retrieved one dead body while six people were rescued without injuries, Vice Mayor Codilla said.
Leyte Governor Dominico Petilla said rescue personnel, ambulances and heavy equipment have been sent to the mountainous town of about 50,000 people.
“They’re still trying to pull out the injured,” Petilla told CNN Philippines television.
The 10-year-old building housed a small hotel upstairs and shops on the ground floor, officials said.
‘Bound to crumble’
Tacloban and Ormoc were without power along with large sections of the island, residents said.
Roy Ribo, an official with a farmers’ organization who was visiting Kananga, told AFP the commercial building was heavily damaged and “ready to collapse” when he passed by shortly after the quake.
“I took a quick picture but it was bound to crumble,” said Ribo, who added he immediately fled the area, driving through paved roads that were cracked by the quake.
He said the tremor struck while he was meeting local officials outside a power plant on the outskirts of Kananga.
“It normally emits white smoke but after the quake, it emitted dark smoke,” Ribo added.
Teachers herded panicked grade school students out of the classrooms at the Rizal National High School near the power plant, he said.
“Many children were hysterical. They were frantic, crying,” he added.
Father Romy Salazar, the Catholic parish priest of the Leyte town of Jaro that was at the quake’s epicenter, told AFP power was cut off and residents rushed out of their homes as the town shook.
“I was inside the church. I was forced to hold on to the main door,” Salazar said, but added he had not seen any major damage in the town.
In Manila, National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) Romina Marasigan said reports reaching Camp Aguinaldo cited at least 10 people injured in a two-story pension house that collapsed in Kananga, Leyte.
“Initially it was confirmed to us by Kananga Vice Mayor Codilla that a pension house collapsed. The Bureau of Fire and Protection (BFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and rescue unit of Kananga are there conducting rescue operations,” Marasigan told The Manila Bulletin.
Pressed for more information on the situation at the Queda Building which housed a grocery store, Marasigan said: “We still don’t have any information. It’s difficult to call Leyte as communication is down… initially, it was reported to be three-story, but it was just two stories.”
“Iyung bagsak n’ya parang pancake, hindi napunta sa left or right (It collapsed like a pancake, it didn’t lean to the left or right),” Marasigan added.
In Tagbilaran City, there is still no word when Bohol is getting its power back after it plunged into a total blackout following the earthquake. Bohol sources its electricity supply from Leyte.
Betty Martinez of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) said the two 138 kv circuits supplying electricity to Bohol tripped around 4:06 p.m., leaving the island province without power.
Cebu power restored
In Cebu, power was also cut but came back on in less than 30 minutes.
Phivolcs Visayas OIC Robinsons Jorgio said there were reports of damage to structures and buildings in Jaro and Canangga towns.
Jorgio downplayed rumors of a tsunami, saying the epicenter was situated inland.
He said the tremor was felt as far as La Carlota, Negros and Catarman, Northern Samar.
In Cebu City, the city government suspended work at city hall on the recommendation of the city disaster office. All levels were suspended.
“Cebu city Administrator Nigel Paul Villarete ordered for the suspension of work at city hall at 4:25 p.m. today as engineers are checking on the Executive and Legislative Buildings,” said city disaster offer Nagiel Banacia on his Facebook page.
Phivolcs said the earthquake was tectonic, which is caused by ground shaking primarily due to the sudden movement in the earth’s plates.
The earthquake was too shallow at a depth of 2 kilometers, thus the strong shaking.
Phivolcs warned that the tremor may continue to generate aftershocks “for several days to weeks, some of which may be felt.” (With reports from Dave Albarado, Nestor L. Abrematea, Restituto Cayubit, Ellalyn de Vera Ruiz, AFP, and PNA)
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